Bearing Good Fruit

Jesus talked funny.

Whether he was telling stories, sharing wisdom via parables, or using simile, metaphor, or allegory, Jesus said things in ways that may be difficult with which to connect for today’s readers. Yet, we know that his approach really resonated with the people of His time. I think that’s why sometimes church language seems so awkward not just to those outside the church but those in the church as well.

I want to focus on one verse today but use several verses to show what Jesus meant. Matthew 7:15-20 says this:

15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles? 17 Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Therefore by their fruits you will know them.

Basically, Jesus is telling us that you will know whether someone is a good person or a bad person by what their life looks like. Good people produce good results while bad people produce bad results. In the end, Jesus tells us, people who do not produce good results don’t get to heaven. What is important here is to remember that the good and bad results are not based on a worldly scale but based on a spiritual scale.

The reason I am writing about this is I’m finding more and more people who claim to be Christians producing “bad fruit” which means they are not actually following Christ at all. Now don’t get me wrong, we all fall short and screw up. I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about people who claim Christ as their Lord and savior yet routinely act in ways that we as Christians are specifically told not to. Let me show you what I mean.

Here are some of the hardest commands Christians must adhere to. Honestly, they can only be done if one has in fact been born again (John 3:1-21), indwelt by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16), been transformed (Romans 12:2), and are a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Seek forgiveness

One of the hardest things to do in life is admit when you’re wrong. But, we as Christians are commanded to seek forgiveness when we harm someone else. Matthew 18:15 says, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.” While I prefer to be the initiator of seeking forgiveness when I screw up, sometimes you don’t actually know you screwed up! This is when your brother or sister comes to you and lets you know that you transgressed against them. The implication of this verse is that you then should reconcile – seek forgiveness for your error – and then renew the friendship.

It breaks my heart that I routinely see people in the church holding grudges, being angry with other brothers or sisters, and basically not admitting fault when the fault is theirs. I get it – admitting fault is hard and humbling yourself in such a way as to seek forgiveness can be down right humiliating. But that is our standard! And we are to do it every single time we transgress against someone.

Now, let me say this loud and clear: if the person against whom you transgressed is not a believer, don’t expect them to forgive you. They may not and that’s okay. You need to do what God has called you to do which is admit your transgression and seek reconciliation. Their forgiving you is between them and God. If they don’t forgive you, scripture says they also will not be forgiven (Mark 16:14-15). You do your part so that the Father can forgive you as well.

Forgive as you’ve been forgiven

“Then Peter came up and said to him, ‘Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.’” (Matthew 18:21)

This verse stings! Jesus is saying we must forgive a person every single time they do something to us. Peter’s question is one we all have – If someone keeps doing something to us, how many times do I have to forgive him? He’s doing it on purpose and won’t stop!! Jesus is clear: Every time!

So many in the church today have an unforgiving heart. They’ve just been transgressed against so many times that they no longer can find forgiveness for people. But I caution you to remember this: You, too, have transgressed against God so many times that He should be tired of you, too! Yet, He forgives you “seventy times seven” times.

Unforgiveness is bad fruit that will result in you being throw into the fire. Giving forgiveness is hard, it’s a process, and it doesn’t mean allowing a person to simply walk all over you – there are boundaries within forgiveness. But we are to forgive as we’ve been forgiven (Mark 16:14).

Bear with one another

There are people out there that are just plain annoying! Yet, scripture tells us that as Christians, we are to bear with one another (Colossians 3:12). That means bearing with people’s burdens, idiosyncrasies, immature faith, annoying habits, neediness and more.

Again, this does not mean doing so without boundaries, but it does mean that when someone does something that annoys you that you don’t just write them off. You bear with people who may have a different political persuasion than you. You bear with people who may not agree with you on various issues. You bear with people who see the world a bit differently based on their life experience. You don’t base your Christian fellowship with someone on whether or not they agree with you, do things your way, or meet your expectations. You bear with everyone just as God bears with you!

Don’t bear false witness

This is one of the Big 10! Yes, one of the 10 Commandments – still part of God’s absolute moral law (Exodus 20:16). It should be obvious that you don’t lie about people! Yet, I see it within the body of Christ all the time! Sometimes it’s overt – just a plain lie! Sometimes it’s subtler – disparaging someone’s character; questioning another’s motive or ascribing false motives to them; embellishing a story about a conflict you have with someone to make them look worse and you look better; sowing doubt about a person in any way. If you think about it, you see it as well, and perhaps you are the one doing it!

Christian! Knock it off!

That’s all I have to say about that!

Don’t gossip

Proverbs 11:13 says, “A gossip betrays a trust, but a trustworthy person keeps a secret.” Paul calls out gossip as one of the behaviors he’s seeing at the church at Corinth as he’s chastising them in 2 Corinthians 12:20.

Gossip is bad, but it so hard not to do! God warns us about our tongues multiple times in scripture because it gets us in so much trouble. Yet, we continue to talk about people behind their backs.

Gossip, in my mind, isn’t just mean-spirited stuff you say about people when they’re not around. Gossip is talking about someone at all when they’re not around. I’m not saying you can’t talk about John’s trip to the emergency room and that it all worked out okay. But, it becomes gossip when you start talking about the reasons John had to go to the emergency room and how his wife wasn’t there with him because she was at work and wouldn’t leave right away because she was working on a big project that had to get done, and how the kids were left at home by themselves during that time. This all may be true, but it’s not really your business!

Gossip will never produce good fruit and Christians that gossip shows the rest of the world that we really don’t take God’s word seriously.

Don’t judge another (Speck and plank)

Jesus warns us not to judge others using a great example in Matthew 7:3. Talking to a group, He says, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”

Burn!

Jesus didn’t say not to help the guy with the speck of sawdust, but He did say to take the plank out of your own eye first then you can help your brother!

This is so important. Christians are always judging people, yet their own spiritual lives are a dumpster fire! You really don’t have the right to correct someone else unless you yourself are corrected. That’s why Jesus told the religious leaders that those without sin should cast the first stone at the adulterous woman in John 8. They all dropped their rocks, knowing full well they were in sin just like the woman who they came to stone.

We are called to hold each other accountable in the faith (1 Corinthians 5:9-12), but we are not to judge, which is different. One of the biggest knocks on Christians by those outside the faith is we are so judgmental. That is a failure on our part if the public sees us as such.

Reconcile with your brother or sister

“So, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”  (Matthew 5:23-24)

Think about this for a moment. God thinks it’s so important to be reconciled that He refuses your gift to Him until you do it!!

Unreconciled relationships are the cause of more pain in people’s lives than anything else I see. Reconciliation begins with forgiveness, which begins with admission of guilt. If someone has something against you, accept your part in it! Even if you really didn’t do anything, accept that what you did do was perceived wrong! Seek forgiveness from that person and find ways to communicate in the future that avoid such conflicts.

Reconciling can be hard. I’ve had people mad at me for extended periods without even knowing they were mad! Once I found out, I followed this command. Sometimes, I was, indeed, wrong and sought forgiveness. Other times, I actually didn’t do anything wrong, but still admitted my guilt in not handling the communication in a way that was clear and not harmful. And again, sought forgiveness. Why? Because God tells me to reconcile with people before coming to Him and I want to come to Him!!

I hear my Christian brothers and sisters say they are mad at someone all the time. Really? If you’re mad at someone, tell them and reconcile! Do what scripture commands and stop being a knucklehead!

Don’t be offended

This one is my favorite pet peeves right now.

Doesn’t it seem as if everyone in America is offended by something today? Christians! You are not to be offended by anything!

I know that surprises a bunch of you. I can hear you saying, “But Tom, there is so much offensive stuff out there like porn, and violence, and anti-Christian hate. We have a right to be offended by such ungodly stuff.”

No, you don’t.

Jesus told us in Matthew 5:39, “But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.”

It’s important to understand the context of this statement. In Jesus’ day, slapping someone on the cheek was a way of insulting them. If you wanted to challenge or insult someone, you’d either slap their cheek – probably with the back of your hand – or you would pull on their beard. Jesus tells us that when insulted like this we are simply to take it and not get upset. In fact, let them do it again.

I like how The Preacher’s Outline and Sermon Bible puts it, “His point (Jesus): the believer is not to retaliate against the most terrible insults or bitter contempt – not even against threats of physical harm. Turning the other cheek is difficult. It means a person does not challenge, resent, avenge, retaliate, or enter into a legal action against an attacker, but he prepares for another slap and bears it patiently.”

This verse gets misinterpreted a lot – Jesus certainly resisted people, such as the money changers in the temple and the Pharisees who he called a brood of vipers! So, it does not mean just get run over by people – there is a time and place for defending yourself. However, it does mean that we are to show grace, mercy, forgiveness, and humility in the face of an insult or offense and not to respond in vengeance with an eye for an eye!

I can’t tell you how many Christians today are offended by something. Get over it! If you’re offended, you’re making things about you and not about Jesus. Yes, there are things out there that are offensive, but understand that God is sovereign and He doesn’t really need your righteous indignation to help Him. If something is evil, call it what it is – evil. But don’t get all offended when an enemy, acquaintance or even a friend or family member does something that gets under your skin. Show grace, love, mercy and forgiveness – prove you’re a Christian by the fruit you bear – and move on!

Love the unlovable

Jesus really convicts us on this one when He said, “32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.” (Luke 6:32-35)

It’s easy to love the lovable. It’s brutal to love the unlovable – those who attack you without cause; those who hate you for no reason; those who intentionally do you harm out of spite. Yet, that is our call. You want to bear good fruit? Love someone who thinks you’re the enemy. This truly takes an act of the Holy Spirit in your life.

1 John 4:20 admonishes us, “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.” Be careful to show that you love God by loving others!

Tell the truth in love

Christianity is being watered down to make it more palatable for the masses. We were warned about this in 2 Timothy 4:3. Today, many churches just want to talk about the love of Christ, His grace, mercy and forgiveness. They never mention God’s justice, His holiness, sin, hell or anything else that may hold people to account. It just doesn’t seem nice.

A preacher made a confession the other day in a piece he wrote, admitting that he was one of those pastors who focused only on the love part of the gospel. I call it “partial gospel” and it tells only part of the truth. This preacher wrote the following which I found the perfect summation for telling the truth in love.

“Grace is never permissive. Grace never calls wrong right. If wrong were not wrong, there would be no need for grace. Forgiveness always assumes some offense against moral law.”

We need to call sin sin, evil evil, and call those living apart from God to repentance so that they understand that Jesus’ love was shown via the punishment He took for our transgressions. We need to do so gently but boldly. Preaching a partial gospel does nothing to help people accept Jesus as their savior only their Lord.

Consider others better than yourself

Here’s a great story. I guy I was working with wanted to meet with a pastor of a larger church in our community. It turns out we all met at an event and the pastor told my friend to give his secretary a call to set up a meeting. The next day, my friend calls the church and gets the pastor’s gatekeeper who keeps his calendar. He explained to the gatekeeper that he had met the pastor the night before – turns out they already knew each other – and the pastor told him to call for an appointment. The gatekeeper – get this – told my friend that he couldn’t have an appointment but could see the pastor after service on Sunday if he waited in line after the sermon!

Can you believe that???

Now, I don’t know if his gatekeeper is just power-hungry or if the pastor himself has directed his gatekeeper to keep people away from him. Either way, it’s outrageous!

Philippians 2:3-5 tell us, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus….”

There are so many in the Christian faith who just don’t get this. You see them looking down on people, considering themselves more important or smarter, or richer or whatever than others. The most egalitarian place on earth should be the church! Yet, we are fallen and continue to measure each other so that there is a pecking order.

Jesus values humility, service, placing others before yourself, and dying to this world. Do people see that good fruit in you or do they see just another person running the rat race like everyone else? We as Christians are called to be different. Are you?

Treat others as you would be treated

Did you know that the so-called “Golden Rule” is actually from the Bible? Yup, Luke 6:31. So, how many times have you responded inappropriately to someone in a way that you would never want to be treated? Just admit you have, it’s easier that way.

Those of us trying desperately to follow Jesus fight against this all the time. We know that Jesus expects us to act differently than everyone else. We don’t get to flip off the driver who cut us off on the freeway. We don’t get to chew out the customer service person who screwed up our order for the eighth time. We don’t get to roll our eyes and make noises under our breath when the person in front of us in line is taking too long as far as we are concerned!

I love the old comedian George Carlin. He did a schtick where he was talking about driving on the freeway and said something to the effect of, “Have you ever noticed that everyone who passes you going Mach 3 are morons and those in front of you going the speed limit are idiots?” It’s so true! We see everyone else in a negative light and treat them in a way we ourselves would never want to be treated.

People notice that, my dear Christian brothers and sisters. When you’re flipping off that driver, the guy behind you sees the fish on your car! Bear good fruit. Be different. Treat others the way you yourself would want to be treated!

Honor your commitments

This is another one that drives me completely nuts!

I’m in my 50s and was raised by people in the Depression era (grandparents) and the WW II generation (uncle and father). I learned as a kid that a handshake was a deal and your word was your bond. I can hear you laughing at me right now.

Today, no such etiquette seems to exist, but it should, especially among Christians. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been let down by fellow believers with whom I had what I considered agreements. It seems others have been to.

In my various ministry work, I partner with many non-believers. Each seems to have at least one story of a Christian who didn’t come through for them after making a commitment of some sort. This, in turn, prejudices them against Christians in general because of their bad experience. It’s stereotyping and a bit unfair, but you can understand their position.

Jesus told us not to make oaths but to let our yes be yes and our no be no (Matthew 5:37). In other words, if you say you’re going to do something, do it! If you can’t do something or don’t want to do something, just say no! Don’t commit to do something and then back out. You give Jesus a black eye when you do that!

Work together for the kingdom

I’ll stop at this one, but I have to address it. Have you noticed how Christians don’t really work together? Other people notice!

The Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 12 and 14 outlines very clearly God’s vision for believers. God has given each of us spiritual gifts, talents, experiences, and passions. We have good works to do that were planned for us from the beginning of the world (Ephesians 2:10). We all have different skills that Paul teaches are to be used together to further God’s kingdom. Too many pastors think that only applies to the people in their church working together for the benefit (edification) of their own church or denomination. That is not what it means, brothers and sisters!

We, the full body of Christ throughout the entire world, are to work together so that “Thy kingdom come thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven!” What drives me absolutely crazy is how difficult it is to partner with Christians, especially other churches, pastors, and leaders. As someone who spent 30 years in both the private and public sector, I can affirm for you that it is significantly easier to partner in the secular world to complete a project than it is in the Christian world. And that is a crime! It is unbiblical and ungodly!

Too many Christians think their ministry is “theirs” and not Christ’s. If you want to make sure the church doesn’t bear any good fruit, make sure the churches don’t work together. Make sure we continue to separate ourselves by denomination. Make sure we don’t hold each other accountable to the Gospel so that we all are preaching different gospels. Make sure we look at each other within the body with suspicion. That’s the way to make the church impotent…as it seems to be today.

Yeah, this one fires me up.

If you’re still with me, I’ll finish this up by asking you this question: Are you bearing good fruit for Jesus or are you bearing bad fruit and have put yourself in danger of being thrown into the fire. Don’t fool yourself! I want to share two REALLY important verses with you so you get this clearly.

James, the brother of Jesus, tells us in James 1:22, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. “In other words, you are deceiving yourself if you just read scripture, know it but do not act on it. Even Satan knows scripture – that doesn’t impress Jesus. You must DO IT!

The next verse is the most frightening in the entire Bible. Here is Jesus in Matthew 7:21-23:

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

Do you see what is happening here? People who thought they were followers of Jesus were rejected by Jesus! They said they prophesied in His name, routed Demons in His name and did miracles in His name. Jesus calls them “evil doers” and says He never knew them!

WOW!!!

There are some of you out there right now who think you are following Jesus but you don’t actually KNOW Him and instead are just using Him like the people in the verse above! You are not bearing good fruit even though you may be prophesying, driving out demons and doing miracles! WOW again! Your fruit is evil because your motive is not doing God’s will but serving yourself! Harsh, but true.

While I know that the gates of Hell cannot stand against Christ’s church, I worry about its condition today. There are so many in the church bearing bad fruit because they don’t want to do the hard things Jesus calls us to and instead want Jesus to fit into their way of thinking. Being a Christian is not for sissies. Jesus was serious when He told us we need to die to ourselves and this world, pick up our cross and carry it daily.

As believers, we hate our sin, we fight against our sin, and we do everything we can through the power of the Holy Spirit to transform ourselves into the likeness of Jesus everyday so that we can bear good fruit for Him. God’s grace truly is sufficient for us as we run this race as freakin’ hard as we can!

So, I ask you again, are you a tree that is bearing good fruit? Do you strive to do the things we’ve talked about above or are you just content to live your life just like everyone else and bear whatever fruit – if any – that comes?

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